It’s easy to write off a show like The Middle at first glance. It’s a comedy about a middle-class family living in small-town Indiana. It didn’t receive the type of buzz that ABC’s other new comedies Modern Family and Cougar Town received last season. If you did write this show off last season, then you missed a great comedy that deserves more acclaim. Now, you have a chance to catch up with this hilarious show with the release of the season one DVD set.
The Middle revolves around the Heck family of Orson, Indiana. The show is narrated from the perspective of mother Frankie (Patricia Heaton), a woman who balances family duties with her work selling cars at a local dealership. Her husband Mike (Neil Flynn) is a simple, no-nonsense guy who works at the local quarry.
The couple have three children. Their oldest is Axl (Charlie McDermott), a teenage slacker who usually mopes around the house clad only in boxers. The middle child is gawky pre-teen Sue (Eden Sher), a girl who is eternally optimistic in the face of repeated failure. The youngest is Brick (Atticus Shaffer), a slightly odd little boy who usually whispers the last word of every sentence he says to himself.
The backdrop of The Middle is a timely one. The Hecks are a middle-class family struggling to remain that way. Frankie doesn’t sell many cars so she is always on the edge of being fired by her boss Mr. Ehlert (Brian Doyle-Murray). Mike gets laid off from the quarry midway through the season and several episodes feature him at home with the kids and trying to find a job. One memorable episode hits right at America’s credit crisis when the phrase “No Payments Due Until 2009″ catches up with the family. Although the family’s financial struggles are a big part of the show, they don’t drag the show down. The tone is always hopeful and the humor keeps coming.
One of the best things about the show is its cast. Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn are well-cast as Frankie and Mike. Their performances are wonderfully low-key and they help to ground the show. The kids on the show are great. Eden Sher steals every scene as Sue, a character you simultaneously laugh at and root for. Charlie McDermott hits the right balance of annoying and likable as Axl. Atticus Shaffer’s Brick may remind you of other characters at first (Malcolm in The Middle‘s Dewey comes to mind) but he forges his own path over the course of the show.
There are also some very good supporting characters and guest stars to be found in The Middle‘s inaugural season. Chris Kattan is surprisingly good as Bob, Frankie’s co-worker and best friend. It’s the best he’s been since his days on Saturday Night Live. Brian Doyle-Murray is excellent as the unbelievably blunt Mr. Ehlert. Alexa Vega (of Spy Kids fame) guest stars in multiple episodes as Axl’s sunny (but controlling) cheerleader girlfriend. Brooke Shields guest stars in one episode as the trashy mother of neighborhood bullies and the ubiquitous Betty White appears in the season finale as a librarian out for Brick.
The 24 episodes of The Middle‘s first season are spread out across three discs. There are some minimal extras to be found. One episode each on discs one and two as well as four episodes on disc three have deleted scenes. You can access the deleted scenes from the special features or episode menus but you can’t watch the episodes with the scenes put back in.
All the other extras are on disc three. The featurette “Raising A Sitcom Family” covers the origins of the show and features interviews with the main cast, creators, and others involved in production. Another featurette, “Sue’s Best Shots” starts off as a montage of Sue’s notoriously bad school pictures then continues as members of the cast recall their own school experiences. The only other extra on the set is a short gag reel.
In “Raising A Sitcom Family,” co-creator/executive producer Eileen Heisler says that the title of The Middle means “middle-age, middle-class, middle of the country.” It should also represent the way the show keeps itself from going overboard. It’s a family comedy with some silly moments that never feels too silly. It deals with America’s economic problems but doesn’t let things become downbeat or serious. It has a lot of heart without feeling too hokey. The first season of The Middle is promising and a whole lot of fun. We can only hope that the show gets better as it moves onto season two.
The second season of The Middle premieres September 22 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.